Authors: Ann Simas
All rights reserved.
©2016 by Ann Simas
Cover art and design ©2016 by Ann Simas
Excerpt from Dressed to Die ©2014 by Ann Simas
Except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review, no part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without per-mission in writing from the publisher, Magic Moon Press, POB 41634, Eugene, OR 97404-0368. Please do not participate in encouraging piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
Sliced to Die
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or events described herein, is entirely coincidental.
978-0-9961490-2-0 (print book)
Magic Moon Press . POB 41634 . Eugene, OR 97404-0368
Edited by Nancy Jankow
This book is for everyone
who believes in the Afterlife,
or who wants to.
What have you got to lose?
Was it but the mockery of penitence?
A mockery, indeed, but in which his soul
trifled with itself! A mockery at which
angels blushed and wept, while fiends
rejoiced with jeering laughter!
— Nathaniel Hawthorne,
The Minister’s Vigil
Andi Comstock stoo
and stared out the window of her second-floor office. Not that she had that much to see. Eight feet beyond the glass, a concrete cinder-block wall ran the length of the building and soared to a height that matched the top of her window. The only tree between the wall and the barrier grew just to the left, leaf-bare, but littered with promising buds.
Mother Nature was sending signals that Spring lurked just around the corner, which seemed completely at odds with the January calendar, the blustery day outside…and the squirrels. Co-workers in the adjacent two offices had informed her that the little critters were entertaining. They had neglected to mention the entertainment was X-rated.
Andi shook her head. The squirrels’ courting rituals involved cavorting back and forth across the top of the wall, engaging in, well, squirrelly sex. Nothing could stop them, not even a torrential downpour, with winds gusting so hard, the bare branches of the tree tickled the glass, resulting in a screeching sound that sent chills down Andi’s back.
Aside from being educated in the annual mating habits of squirrels, Andi was also learning the ins-and-outs associated with the pungent aroma of smoke that engulfed her every time the crematorium next door was activated at the Chapel of the Garden.
As far as she knew, not a single other living person ever smelled it. The reason was both simple and complex. Simple because no smoke ever actually emitted during the cremation process. It had something to do with advanced technology. The retort, which was the chamber where cremations took place, ran on natural gas, allowing the flames to burn hotter and cleaner, leaving behind little odor and no smoke.
Complex because every time a cremation occurred, an invisible someone stopped by to speak to Andi on the way to Afterlife. She had fondly dubbed the transitory souls Smokies.
After almost ten months of working at Orion’s Belt, she thought she’d be used to the Smokies stopping by and conversing with her, but she wasn’t.
Take now for instance. Someone chuckled and said,
Jings! We Smokies are kind of like the bloody postal service, Andi.
Neither sleet nor rain nor wind nor snow nor dark of rainy day will keep us from speaking to you. Sae lang noo, lass!
Andi sighed. It was true. As long as she worked in this building, on this block, she was destined to hear cremated dead people talk, and many times, like now, they knew what she was thinking. Was that even fair? What if she had some deep, dark secret she didn’t want anyone to know, not even a dead person? Ludicrous as it seemed, she supposed if such an intrusion ever came to pass, she’d have to consult a mind-reader about how to block the Smokies.
“Safe travels,” she said to the Scotsman and received a jolly laugh in return.
Andi retrieved the journal she carried in her purse. She meticulously recorded everything the Smokies said to her, and if she didn’t quite understand them, she put it down phonetically to look up when she got home. Their words ran the gamut from happy to sad to poignant. Usually. About six months earlier, she’d received a plea for help from Sherry Spence Hemmer, an old friend from school, who had been murdered, but didn’t know it.
Andi sincerely hoped she never had to deal with something like
She spent a great deal of time wondering why she, of all people, was the one who heard those passing from the crematorium to the Great Beyond. Each time she pondered the
of it, however, her mental scrutiny did nothing but stir up the same old questions. Why didn’t she hear from any of the dead whose funerals and memorial services were held at the Chapel of the Garden? Why could she only hear the cremated on this block? Why couldn’t anyone else hear them? Why did the dead feel compelled to talk to her at all?
All those unanswered questions culminated into one big one:
What was so damned special about Andi Comstock, anyway?
Ever since she could remember, she’d attributed her ability to remember conversations verbatim to the fact that she was somewhat anal retentive. It was during one of her recent research bouts that she’d come across a term she’d never encountered before, audiographic memory. The clinical definition described it as the ability to remember exactly what is heard.
So far, Andi didn’t know whether to count her ability as a blessing or a curse. Finding Sherry’s killer had contributed to easing the Spence and Hemmer families’ grief, certainly, and before Sherry left the earthly plane, she had informed Andi that it enabled her to pass over. Those results could be counted as a blessing. On the other hand, Andi had been introduced to a dark side of life she’d never encountered before, and certainly never imagined, and that was definitely a curse.
She jotted down a final note to the latest Smokie entry (Scottish accent) before she returned the journal to her purse. Sometimes it took her breath away when one of their communications touched her in unexpected ways.
Convinced her internal debate would continue unresolved until the day she died, or until such time that she quit the Belt and never set foot on this particular block again, she aimed her chair toward the twin monitors on her desk, intent on getting back to work.
It wasn’t like she didn’t have alternatives if she really needed to escape the Smokies. For instance, she could take a walk on the other side of the street to clear her brain. That wouldn’t work on a day like this because it wasn’t a dancin’-in-the-rain kind of storm outside. It was more like a
moment in time, complete with thunder and lightning. In January, for God’s sake. Where was the snow, anyway?
Andi allowed herself a lingering glance out the window. She’d been hired the previous Spring to work specifically on an Orion’s Belt game app called Bunny Hop. She’d tackled the project with vigor and a bundle of fresh ideas, one of which was to rename the app Wild Hare. The company’s owner, Orion Lee, and her supervisor, Brent Hathaway, had been excited with her progress. Andi didn’t know what the big deal was. She’d always had a fertile imagination and she was happy just to be able to put her mind to work in a challenging, productive way that paid the bills.
Since Thanksgiving, she’d completed two more chapters for Wild Hare. As was a custom begun when she’d written three game apps on her own, she named chapters according to the theme of the game, in this case, rabbits. Br’er and Thumper had gone well, but she was having trouble with White Rabbit. She could almost hear the chapter chanting,
Oh, dear! Oh, dear! I shall be late!
To compound matters, she actually did feel a little like Alice down the rabbit hole. She’d self-imposed a deadline to figure out why this chapter wasn’t coming together, which gave her four days to achieve a light-bulb moment and reach the ten-chapter milestone. After that, only another ten chapters to go and Wild Hare would release in time for the holiday season.
Her brain instructed her to be excited about that, but White Rabbit simply wasn’t cooperating. After an hour, she decided to take an early lunch, rain be damned. Fresh air would go a long way toward clearing her mind, and with any luck, revitalizing it.
She saved her progress, what little there was of it, and pulled her purse from the bottom drawer. Her umbrella wouldn’t be of any use in the wind, but her new raincoat had a hood. She drew it up over her head and off she went.
Andi no sooner landed at the foot of the stairs leading to the front door than her smartphone rang. She slipped off a glove and dug into her purse. Her heart did an excited little dance at the “Bad Boys”/
ringtone. “Hi, Jack.”
“Hey, babe. How’s everything going?”
Andi looked around to make sure no one was nearby to overhear. “Let’s just say I was having a lot more fun in bed with you this weekend than I am with White Rabbit right now.”
“I can’t help you with your rabbit problems,” he said, “but I ditto you completely on the other part. Want to grab some lunch?”
“Funny you should ask. I’m just heading over to Soup Nation. Want to meet me there?”
“Geez, Andi, it’s pouring buckets. Want me to pick you up?”
“No, I can walk. I need to unfreeze my brain.”
“More likely, you’ll freeze that sweet little ass of yours instead, but if you insist on walking, I’ll meet you there in ten.”
“Toodles.” She slipped her phone back into her purse, pulled her glove back on, and stepped outside. A huge gust of wind wiped the grin off her face and nearly flattened her against the building. “This is ridiculous,” she mumbled, already wishing she hadn’t been so quick to turn down Jack’s offer of a ride. She put her head down and forged on, thankful she’d worn long pants and boots to work. It was much colder outside than it looked.
Whether because she was early or because of the storm, she beat the lunch crowd. Andi hung her rain gear on the coat rack next to the front door. By the time she’d settled into her favorite booth and ordered a cup of hot tea, Jack was easing his vehicle up to the curb. Over his suit, he had on the Columbia rain jacket she’d given him for Christmas. Maybe not the most stylish combination, but at least he’d keep dry. Mostly. As pleased as she was that he liked the gift, she wondered if a trench coat wouldn’t have been more effective against the torrential downpour.
He fed the meter and made a dash for the door, foregoing the hood on his jacket. Once he stepped inside, he shook his head like a dog, spraying water everywhere.
No matter how bedraggled he looked, the sight of Detective Jack Harmon sent Andi’s pulse racing.
He shed his jacket and hung it next to hers. At the booth, he leaned over to kiss her. The best appetizer ever.
He slid in across from her and asked the server for a black coffee as he reached for a menu. “Talk to any dead people today?” he asked, perusing the offerings.
“Just one. He informed me that the Smokies are like the ‘bloody’ post office. Neither rain, nor snow, nor yada, yada, yada will keep them from talking to me.”
Jack looked up, his eyes widened. “Was that supposed to be a conversational gambit or a threat?”
“Not a threat,” she assured him. “I was pondering and” —she shrugged— “they do seem to be able to read my mind.”
One of Jack’s eyebrows went up.
Andi nodded. “He’s my first Smokie with an accent.”
“You can distinguish accents?”
She shrugged. “I guess so. He sounded a little like Sean Connery. On his way out, he said, ‘Sae lang noo, lass.’ My Grandpa Dilwyn was born in Wales, but he grew up in Scotland. He used to say that to me. It’s the Scottish vernacular for ‘So long now, girl.’”
“I didn’t know your grandfather was Welsh.” Jack closed his menu. “You could actually hear the Smokie’s accent, huh?”
Jack shook his head. “Amazing.”
Whether he was being facetious or not, Andi was dead serious when she responded. “I know, right?”
The server arrived with Jack’s coffee and took their order. Andi placed hers first for
. Jack seconded it and asked for extra tortilla chips. When they finished eating, he insisted on giving her a ride back to work. Andi didn’t argue. If anything, the weather had gone ballistic rather than easing up. She silently awarded the weatherman kudos for finally getting a prediction right.
. . .
By the time five o’clock rolled around, Andi’s brain block had dissolved and she managed to get White Rabbit hopping in the right direction. Since she was on roll, she decided to stay an extra hour to make up for the time she’d been unproductive that morning. When she finally shut off her computer, it was well past nine. So much for working an extra sixty minutes.
Being alone in the building didn’t bother her. She’d worked late before and the squall had finally settled into a steady rainfall. She made a mad dash to her car and drove toward home with one quick stop at a drive-thru so she’d have something for dinner. Her weekend list of chores, including grocery shopping, had gone by the wayside when she’d agreed to have a two-day sleepover at Jack’s place.
His job as a detective with Edgerton PD Violent Crimes unit meant their plans to spend time together often went awry. They took their moments together when they could get them.
Andi arrived home and decided to climb into her PJs before she ate. Her phone sounded the
theme just as she settled in on the sofa in front of the TV. “Hey, Jack.”
“Hey, yourself. Did you work late?”
No sense denying it. “I did. Did you come by?”
“Yeah. I figured when you didn’t answer the door that you had a date with that pesky White Rabbit. Fortunately for him, he’s a fictional character.”
Andi laughed. “Or you’d make rabbit stew out of him, huh?”
“Or run him in for interfering with a relationship.”
Andi stretched out, settling her feet on the coffee table. “You didn’t say you were coming over tonight.”
“I finished my meeting early and I got lonely.”
“I bet you did.”
“Have you eaten? I know you forget to sometimes, when you work late.”